The Chinese Lantern Festival will be celebrated February 28, bringing Chinese Lunar New Year to an end. The 15-day long Spring Festival will draw to a close. No more closed businesses, and most importantly, no more fireworks. I have never lived in a war zone, but the constant deafening explosions of past two weeks have given me a fair indication of what an artillery strike would sound like.
The Lantern Festival will see the first full moon of the new year – this year being the Chinese Year of the Tiger. Modern practices see families walking outside, children holding colorful paper lanterns, appreciating the moon. Glutinous Rice Balls called yuanxiao are the traditional festival food often eaten in soup called tangyuan.
The Lantern Festival has been celebrated for thousands of years. Why lanterns? What’s the deal? If I’ve learned anything in China it is there are many different explanations for everything.
One legend says the festival was a way to worship the Chinese god of heaven, Taiyi. Beginning with the Qin Dynasty, emperors would hold elaborate celebrations to appease the god and ward off possible droughts, famine, disease, and possibly dragon attacks. The end of Spring Festival is also the birthday of the Taoist god of good fortune, Tianguan. It was believed that Tianguan liked entertainment. Since there were no strippers in the days of yor, lanterns were a way of giving the dude what he craved, and hopefully having him grant good fortune to lantern bearers.
There are other stories. Which one is true? That’s a matter of personal choice. I’m partial to the story of the Lantern Festival starting as a way of deceiving the Jade Emperor in Heaven. Some villagers inadvertently hunted and killed the Jade Emperor’s favorite bird. That’s a big no-no – don’t mess with a god’s avian friends. He was a little angry and decreed the village would be destroyed in a storm of fire.
Mr. Jade’s daughter over heard his plan and told the villagers. A village wiseman decided to hang red lanterns, start big bonfires, and toss around fireworks to make the village look like it was on fire. When the Jade Emperor’s soldiers arrived to launch their shock and awe attack they saw the village was already ablaze. They reported back to the emperor who probably said, “Good,” and went back to doing his other Jade Emperor duties. The villagers celebrated not being burnt to a crisp with the lanterns and fireworks each year on the anniversary of their deception. In your face, Jade Emperor.
I’ll be in Hong Kong, a mecca for Indian tailors and African drug dealers, for this year’s Lantern Festival. I’ll see what trouble I can get into and the possible photos that result.